I have been contacted by a number of constituents as part of a campaign concerning potential changes to free TV licences for over 75s.
TV licences for over 75s have been free since November 2000, with the concession received by around 4.5 million households. In 2021/22, the cost is expected to be £745 million. Funding for the concession will transfer from the Government to the BBC in June 2020.
A BBC consultation on licence fees for older people closed on 12 February 2019, which sought views on three options:
• copying the existing scheme for over 75s, although that could cost around a fifth of their budget - the equivalent to what is spent today on all of BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, the BBC News Channel, CBBC and CBeebies
• restoring the universal licence fee that existed in the past, meaning no concession - although this would have an impact on those over 75s, particularly poorer pensioners, who currently do not pay
• reforming the scheme – through, for example, discounting the cost of a licence fee for older people; raising the age from 75 to 80; or introducing means-testing.
The BBC is expected to reach a decision by summer 2019.
The 2017 Conservative Manifesto included a commitment to maintain free TV licences for the elderly “for the duration of this parliament”.
On 1 May 2019, Jim Cunningham MP asked the Prime Minister whether she stood by this. The Prime Minister replied:
We do stand by the commitments that we made. Of course, we are changing the arrangements for the TV licences—that is going to the BBC—but there is no reason why the BBC, with the money available to it, is not able to continue that.
In response to a parliamentary question, the Government has also said that it wants and expects the BBC to continue with the concession:
Many older people across the country value television as a way to stay connected with the world. That is why we have guaranteed the over 75s concession until June 2020, at which point the responsibility for the concession will transfer to the BBC. After that, it is for the BBC to decide on the future of the concession, but we have made it clear that we would want and expect it to continue with it.
I would certainly want to maintain free TV licenses for pensioners on a low or modest income but I do feel that there is a case for well off pensioners to pay. I am not sure it is fair for someone much younger who is on a low wage having to pay but a pensioner who happens to have substantial income and wealth getting it for free. However, I reiterate that pensioners on low and modest incomes should remain exempt.
I am hoping to be able to attend the Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday 8th May regarding TV licenses for over 75s, diary permitting, but in the meantime I also wrote out to Jeremy Wright MP, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, to put forward the concerns raised with me by my constituents and I include below a copy of the response I received.